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About half of Iowa adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the rate of new vaccinations has slowed considerably over the past month. One of Iowa’s congresswomen is continuing her campaign to get shots in arms.
Republican U.S. Rep Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a former Army doctor and a practicing ophthalmologist. Since she took office this year, she has been one of the GOP’s most outspoken advocates for vaccination.
Miller-Meeks has visited vaccination sites in all 24 counties in the 2nd District, and she has stuck patients’ arms herself in most of the counties she represents. She’s offering to visit vaccine clinics with other Iowa representatives in their districts.
She also appeared in a public service announcement encouraging vaccination, along with 12 other Republican doctors in the U.S. House. They got help from pollsters and focus group leaders on crafting effective messages.
Vaccine acceptance varies by ethnicity, age and — like basically everything else in America — political ideology. Those who are hesitant are wrongly deemed anti-vaxxers, a politically charged and intentionally derogatory label.
The influential Merriam-Webster dictionary even includes people who oppose “laws that mandate vaccination” in its definition of anti-vaxxer, a 2018 update that recently caught attention. That broad definition would cover most Americans, including people like me who got vaccines at our earliest available opportunity but still oppose vaccine mandates.
In my experience, telling people they’re stupid is a poor way to change minds.
“Acknowledge that people have real concerns — not finger pointing, not denigrating people, not shaming people,” Miller-Meeks told me in a recent interview.
The first-term congresswoman speaks to some of the reservations people have about COVID vaccines. A common one is that the vaccine authorization was “rushed.”
“There were no shortcuts when it came to safety, only when it came to regulatory red tape,” Miller-Meeks said.
Miller-Meeks also notes that the number of people safely receiving COVID-19 vaccines at this point exceeds the number of people involved in traditional drug trials. The proof is in the numbers — infections are clearly decreasing but there are no signs of widespread adverse reactions.
“Not only do we have vast numbers of people involved in studies, we also now have real-world evidence. When you look at the numbers of COVID positive, it plummeted during winter when we were expecting a spike,” she said.
A few members of the Iowa Legislature have made statements questioning the value of vaccines, which have been repeated by the media and political opponents. But those people do not represent the views of very many Iowans, and most Iowans probably have never heard of them. Iowa’s statewide and federal elected officials in both parties are strongly encouraging vaccination.
“Listen to the science,” we’re told, as if scientists all agree about everything. In fact, experts have frequently disagreed about important issues related to the coronavirus, and the science has shifted throughout the pandemic.
At first they said masks weren’t useful and the public shouldn’t wear them, but then they said everyone needs to wear masks. Some said a vaccine couldn’t be developed in the remaining months of the Trump administration (or even that we shouldn’t trust Trump’s vaccine), but it was developed and it is safe. Contaminated surfaces were thought to spread the virus, until they weren’t. Six feet was downgraded to 3 feet.
It’s all clear as mud. No wonder some normal people are unsure what the right thing to do is.
The Biden administration did a good thing this past week when Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced new guidance allowing vaccinated people to go maskless. That news flips the script — it gives people a positive reason to get vaccinated, rather than just dumping on them for going unvaccinated.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst — who was among the first vaccinated last December — reportedly pulled off her mask at the Capitol and shouted “freedom!” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann — who was jabbed by Miller-Meeks last month — posted a photo of himself throwing masks in the air. It might have been wasteful but many Iowans can appreciate the energy.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They are our ticket to freedom, as Miller-Meeks says.
“We need to get as many people vaccinated as possible. I want to see people smile without a mask. I want to see families get together. I never want to see another elderly person pass away without their loved ones near them,” she told me.
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